Smith’s presence boosts interest in Gophers

Smith’s high-profile past has helped increase fundraising and game attendance for the team.

The face of Gophers men’s basketball head coach Tubby Smith impacts every aspect of the basketball program.

While there was much excitement when officials hired Smith, increased booster club membership, fundraising dollars and attendance are new evidence of his continued effect on the program.

The Golden Dunkers, the official booster club of Gophers men’s basketball, has seen about 30 new members since Smith’s hiring, treasurer Paul Koch said.

“Only the faithful were left, it was a tough stretch the past couple years, and the attrition was greater than normal,” Koch said. “It came back in a heartbeat with Tubby.”

The group is designed to provide funds to the basketball program for needs that are above and beyond what the budget provides, he said.

It costs $800 per year to be a member of the Golden Dunkers, and while not all of those funds make it to the basketball program, Koch said the increased membership means more money.

The Dunkers also look to benefit the basketball program, and to help restore the program’s prominence, vice president Al Nuness said.

In the past, a Gophers men’s basketball ticket was the “hottest ticket in town,” Nuness said, and the group’s intention is to re-create that demand.

“You just couldn’t get a Gopher basketball ticket, and through the Monson era it slowly started to drift away,” he said. “Tubby is going to revitalize that.”

Attendance for home basketball games this season has already increased, despite the fact the Gophers have yet to play a Big Ten game.

Average attendance for the first six men’s basketball games is up more than 1,500 from last year.

In the early stages of this season, two games have drawn more than 12,000 fans to Williams Arena and the first exhibition game this season drew more than each of the first six last season.

Since Smith’s hiring, there has also been an increase in general fundraising by the athletics department, Associate Athletics Director for Development David Crum said.

“As ticket sales increase, so do the annual gifts to the Golden Gopher Fund office,” he said. “We’ve seen an uptake on that as well.”

There are no concrete numbers illustrating the increased fundraising, Crum said, because Smith was hired a short time ago.

“A lot of it is coming through as we speak,” he said. “There are definitely gifts in the pipeline that will be coming because of Tubby Smith’s presence here.”

Due to the high-profile nature of Smith, an increased interest in fundraising can be seen at the various fundraising events through the athletics department, Crum said.

“You fundraise with people, that’s how you build trust, and people have trust in Tubby Smith,” he said. “That’s huge. That’s part of the fundraising business.”

Smith’s prominence also plays a role in the way officials sell the basketball program, director of marketing and ticketing Jason LaFrenz said.

“It’s been huge, its ticket sales, its media attention,” he said. “The attention we’re getting nationally, we didn’t get any of that last year.”

From the “It’s Tubby Time” T-shirts sold to students to game advertisements, Smith’s likeness has, by design, become the marketing arm for the basketball program, LaFrenz said.

“We’re using him in everything that we do,” he said. “He’s featured in all of our ads; we’re using him to help sell tickets.”

Smith is a big name among those following basketball because of his past success at the University of Kentucky, and his presence is a luxury for the athletics department, LaFrenz said.

“He’s probably one of the five most prominent coaches in the country, and we have him here,” he said. “We’re going to use that to our advantage, from a marketing standpoint.”